The Tools We Used
My father gripping the lawnmower's handle
on Saturdays to pummel twigs
was how we measured time.
His pulse beating in his fingers.
One way to show love
is walking back and forth in rows.
On its side
like a frail animal
the wheel-hoe blurs
covered in rain
near wilting summer squash.
I was never taught to rip wood in half with an axe
to build a fire
like my brother.
What I've come to know of love
is a tractor blade
set to cut just above the soil,
Papa shaving his neck
with a razor while camel-crickets
clicked in the basement.
When I followed you back to your land,
when I became a woman
who farms and wears ball-caps, you tucked
in my breast pocket.
Glue that holds thin strands
of my mother's quilt, her straight blonde hairs,
the photograph of her
when she was my age and married,
in my colored notebook.
You learned love is a hammer
beating a nail into bent pine.
The chop-saw and the board it slices.
Blue Ridge campfire nights.
Brother, do you remember
parents tied the trash to a branch
while we whittled sticks
in the souring moonlight?
Digging for carrots before the first hard snow,
hand-blue and mountain-sore,
I broad-forked a foot deep in cold soil.
Shelf of nails. Bent hooks. PVC. Impact
driver. Couplings. Hand saw. Sander.
Trencher. Nail gun. Tiller. Tractor. Disc.
Apple peeler. Seeder. Spreader. Collinear
hoe. Wheel-hoe. Stirrup hoe. Pruning
scissors. Buck knife. Map lines. Gloves.
I buried my pen in my father's warehouse.
When the New River spit our kayaks
from its rusty mouth that day,
the truck we called Big Blue
sunk its tires in the mud.
My uncle threw his back out from pushing.
I will dig out the scrawling roots like words
from the garden of my mind. I will use a trencher
I'm afraid the tractor
my love. That earth
will take his name
before I can.
Teach me how to pray
with the shovel in my hands.
Let my songs be the spoke-wheels
of Papa's beetle-bug. The axe what tears
through the noise in my head.
Let my hands be what God gave me
to write a letter to my brother in Harrisburg.
My body never to cross state lines
without a mouthful of clay dirt.
Let my hands be what God gave a woman like me
to touch a man like you.
Nicole Stockburger holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her unpublished manuscript, "Nowhere Beulah," was a finalist for the 2018 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Poetry program and a finalist for the 2018 Frontier Poetry Digital Chapbook Contest. Finalist for the 2017 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, she received the 2017 Kakalak Poetry Award. Her work recently appeared in The Louisville Review, Raleigh Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Carolina Quarterly, and Indiana Review, among others. She lives outside of Mount Airy, NC, where she co-runs York Farm.